Jules Massenet Werther
Drame lyrique in four acts by Jules Massenet (1842–1912)
Libretto by Édouard Blau (1836–1906), Paul Milliet (1855–1924) and Georges Hartmann (1843–1900) after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel Die Leiden des jungen Werther (1774)
With German and English surtitles
Duration of the opera approx. 2 hours and 45 minutes.
- 18 August 2015, 21:00
- 22 August 2015, 21:00
Print programme (PDF)
In his autobiography Jules Massenet reports returning from a pilgrimage to see Parsifal in Bayreuth in 1886 and breaking his journey in Wetzlar, where he was reminded of Goethe’s epistolary novel Werther, which he proceeded to re-read there and then: ‘I was unable to tear myself away from these blistering letters from which sentiments of the most intense passion pour forth with such force. […] What moving scenes and impassioned tableaux they could produce!’ In fact Massenet’s earliest sketches for Werther date back to 1880. In order to meet the demands of an opera libretto that would be dramatically effective, Massenet’s librettists altered the characters of Charlotte and Albert and added a new one in the person of Sophie. And in contradistinction to the novel, in which Charlotte loves Albert of her own free will and initially fails to notice Werther’s infatuation, the Charlotte of the opera is bound to Albert by a vow that she had sworn to her mother on her deathbed. But these alterations were made with a view to injecting more drama into the plot and they do not affect the character of Werther himself: the strength of his unconditional love for Charlotte and the resultant indissoluble conflicts that drive him to take his own life remain the same. By analogy with the form of Goethe’s epistolary novel, which is cast as a monologue, Massenet wrote his opera from Werther’s standpoint. And he and his librettists also took over from Goethe the descriptions of nature that permeate the novel, descriptions that invariably reflect Werther’s inner feelings, from serenely carefree summer to melancholy autumn and tragic and sombre winter.
Translated by Stewart Spencer